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Festival Speakers

Check back for updates as we add more speakers to our line up!
Meredith Cagigal
Meredith Cagigal
VP Foodservice Channel Strategy & Execution
The Coca-Cola Company
Ron Ruggless
Ron Ruggless
Senior Editor
Nation’s Restaurant News
Bettina Stern
Bettina Stern
Principal & Co-Founder
Chaia

What are you responsible for at your company?
Co-CEO role - but predominately development, strategy, branding, marketing, partnerships

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Chaia is an unconventional taco shop on a mission to get people to eat more vegetables, for both their health and the health of the environment. We believe that everything’s better in a taco, and that making the world a better place starts with the food we eat.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
Our dream has always been change-making at scale, and we’re ready to take Chaia to its full potential. We look forward to bringing ‘farm to taco’ to neighborhoods and families across the country

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Summer food: a ripe tomato sandwich for lunch and fresh-caught, grilled bluefish for supper

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I'm learning to surf!

Matthew de Gruyter
Matthew de Gruyter
CEO & Founder
Next Level Burger
Lucas Bradbury
Lucas Bradbury
CEO & Founder
Project Pollo
Briana Valdez
Briana Valdez
Founder & CEO
HomeState
Christi Ravneberg
Christi Ravneberg
Senior Managing Editor
Nation’s Restaurant News
Jeff Carcara
Jeff Carcara
CEO
Sixty Vines
Josh Halpern
Josh Halpern
CEO
Big Chicken

What are you responsible for at your company?
I oversee every aspect of the business as CEO of the company.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
BIG Food, BIG flavor and BIG fun.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
I’m most excited to see how the industry evolves to hit multiple generations simultaneously. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are looking for completely different things than Gen X and Gen Y are, and vise versa.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
I’m a big fan of all Asian cuisine.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
Even though I’m not a trained actor, I’ve appeared on a Google Workspace commercial with my boss Shaquille O’Neal as well as an episode of Bar Rescue with Jon Taffer.

David Boennighausen
David Boennighausen
CEO
Noodles & Company
Bonin Bough
Bonin Bough
Marketing Guru, Investor, Author
Jeffrey Frederick
Jeffrey Frederick
President & Partner
Ascend Hospitality
Jessica Tomlinson
Jessica Tomlinson
Director of Culinary
Ford’s Garage USA
Bret Thorn
Bret Thorn
Senior Editor, Food & Beverage
Nation’s Restaurant News
Troy Guard
Troy Guard
Owner/Executive Chef
TAG Restaurant Group
James O’Reilly
James O’Reilly
CEO
Smokey Bones
Mike Rypka
Mike Rypka
Founder & CEO
Torchy’s Tacos
Sam Oches
Sam Oches
Editor-in-Chief
Nation’s Restaurant News
Michael McHenry
Michael McHenry
Founder
The McHenry Group
Stratis Morfogen
Stratis Morfogen
Founder
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop, Brooklyn Chop House
Brian Campbell
Brian Campbell
VP of Culinary & Beverage
BigShots Golf
Michelle Kear
Michelle Kear
R&D Chef
Nextbite

What are you responsible for at your company?
I am responsible for researching and developing delicious profitable brands that provide ancillary income to food establishments with minimal lift to their existing operations.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Nextbite matches best-in-class delivery focused brands with under-utilized kitchens. With chef-designed recipes, Nextbite delivers craveable menus for consumers.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
I am excited to see how virtual restaurant brands will effect the foodservice labor force by generating ancillary income in under-utilized kitchens to support being fully staffed.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
15 course tasting menu at Lazy Bear in San Fransisco with my best friend.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I sky dived in Queenstown, NZ from 15,000ft.

John Peyton
John Peyton
CEO
Dine Brands
Leslie Leaf
Leslie Leaf
Chief Customer Officer
Revel Systems

As Revel Systems’ Chief Customer Office, Leslie Leaf oversees all aspects of the post-sale customer journey including support and account management. Leveraging her 20+ years of support-industry experience at Oracle, T-Mobile, and PwC, Leslie has grown and matured one of the best international teams in the business. Energetic and analytically minded with a background in IT, Leslie focuses on people, process, and technology improvements to minimize churn, improve customer satisfaction, and decrease support costs.

Luis Lara
Luis Lara
SVP of Business Development
Consolidated Concepts

Luis Lara is the Senior Vice President of Business Development for Consolidated Concepts. Luis started working in the restaurant industry as a cashier, fry cook, and server. Luis has also worked with restaurants as a financial analyst for a large financial institution in Chicago and has helped build customer databases and loyalty programs for restaurants. Today, Luis leads all new business development efforts and initiatives at Consolidated Concepts. His team works closely with emerging, regional, and national restaurants, virtual and ghost kitchen operators, channel sales partners, supply chain consultants, private equity and venture capital firms.

Jorge Almeida
Jorge Almeida
Senior Marketing Manager
Avocados from Mexico
Carron Harris
Carron Harris
Sr. Director of Culinary
Papa Murphy’s
Scott Boatwright
Scott Boatwright
Chief Restaurant Officer
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Kieran Donahue
Kieran Donahue
Chief Marketing Officer
IHOP
Damola Adamolekun
Damola Adamolekun
CEO, Board of Directors
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc.

What are you responsible for at your company?
As the Chief Executive Officer of P.F. Chang's, I am focused on exceeding the expectations of millions of guests and 20,000 staff members in over 300 locations internationally. Right now, that means completing our restaurant ambiance focused remodels, driving our digital off-premises business, supporting our global franchise partners, and preparing for more new restaurant openings including P.F. Chang’s full-service Bistro, P.F. Chang’s Flagship, and P.F. Chang’s To Go.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
The preeminent Asian restaurant perfect for casual and celebratory dining with menu favorites people love (especially the iconic Chicken Lettuce Wraps) and exciting dishes to explore in an upscale, accessible environment.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
I am excited about the potential for growth, and the opportunity to interface and serve customers differently. By embracing new technologies, platforms and data, we have the opportunity to meet customers where they are and build loyal communities of fans across channels. For P.F. Chang’s specifically, 2019-2021 was about growing our off-premise dining strategy by adding new, digital channels, including a mobile app and expansion of in-house and third-party delivery services. This year is about making those channels work together to create a streamlined, omnichannel approach, allowing guests to interact with P.F. Chang’s when, where and how they want. We will continue to build on this approach in the future, evolving to meet the needs of our customers, while finding new, innovative ways to engage them.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Other than our restaurants my all-time favorite meal would be a home cooked Nigerian dinner with some of my favorite dishes like Jollof Rice and Pepper Soup.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I was born in Nigeria and am fortunate to have called many places home – Nigeria, Amsterdam, Zimbabwe, Illinois, Maryland, Providence, San Francisco, New York and now Arizona. I am a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Business School. At Brown, I was a member of the Ivy League champion football team.

Dontre’al Haigler
Dontre’al Haigler
Product Development
Denny’s
Betsy Hamm
Betsy Hamm
CEO
Duck Donuts

What are you responsible for at your company?
Ensuring the Duck Donuts brand continues to grow and succeed. This includes providing the team, tools and resources so that our franchise partners are able to deliver an superior product with exceptional customer service as we continue to fulfil our mission of serving a warm, edible ring of happiness around the globe!

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Warm, delicious donuts that are made to order and served fresh in a friendly, inviting atmosphere.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
The ability for the industry to adapt and evolve over the last few years is amazing. Continuing to meet customer demands utilizing technology is exciting!

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Authentic Mexican

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
Prior to Duck Donuts, I spent 15+ years in the tourism/hospitality industry. Traveling and food are two of my favorite things!

Jack Li
Jack Li
Founder & CEO
Datassential
Joanna Fantozzi
Joanna Fantozzi
Senior Editor
Nation’s Restaurant News
Idris Stover
Idris Stover
Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Culture
Shake Shack
Leigh Anne Zinsmeister
Leigh Anne Zinsmeister
Group Managing Editor
Nation’s Restaurant News
Ashley Morris
Ashley Morris
CEO
Capriotti’s & Wing Zone

What are you responsible for at your company?
As CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop and Wing Zone, I am responsible for moving the greatest tasting, highest quality sub sandwich company on Earth, along with the fastest, and most flavorful wing chain to the forefront of the restaurant industry. I oversee an extraordinary team of seasoned professionals who work daily advancing the operations of the brands and delivering on the challenges of the Strategic Plan, the Mission, and the Vision.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Capriotti’s- Highest Quality, best tasting sub shop chain on the planet!

Wing Zone- By far the fastest and most flavorful wings and tenders in the industry.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
The restaurant industry is in a period of major disruption on many fronts. This presents the industry with the task of constantly thinking differently than ever before. That is where our company thrives! We love to think outside the box and participate in new trends that are applicable to our industry. We are also super excited about the forthcoming automation that is starting to present in our industry.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
I love Sushi, particularly rolls made with crispy fried rice!

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I have super long arms for my height which makes me a deceiving rebounder and blocker in basketball.

Khanh Nguyen
Khanh Nguyen
Chief Executive Officer
Zalat Pizza

What are you responsible for at your company?
CEO & Founder: Vision, Innovation and Culture

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Hand made NYC-style pizza cooked in a traditional deck ovens with the best ingredients, fun & non-traditional flavors, open super duper late.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
The growing importance of technology and how it should lead to better quality.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Sushi

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
Came to the US on a ship after the fall of Vietnam.

Lon Symensma
Lon Symensma
Owner/Executive Chef
ChoLon Restaurant Concepts
Daniel Camp
Daniel Camp
Sr. Director of Culinary, F&B
On The Border
Clare Wilson
Clare Wilson
Director of Culinary & R&D
Jason’s Deli

What are you responsible for at your company?
New menu items, innovation, quality improvement, equipment testing, packaging testing.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Family friendly, fairly priced, high quality food, and free ice cream. We have something for everyone.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
As difficult as COVID was, I think it made the industry streamline ingredients, carryout menu engineering, and find ways to work smarter, and everyone is better off for it. We're going to be a lot more efficient and effective for our customers.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
My husband and I had just hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso in the Cinque Terre in Italy. When we got to Monterosso, we had lunch at this little spot in an alley with the very best gnocchi pesto Genovese I've ever had. We followed it up with house-made cannoli and limoncello, and it was so memorable.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I have 34 stamps on my passport! I love to travel.

Imran Sheikh
Imran Sheikh
Co-founder and CEO
Milkshake Concepts

What are you responsible for at your company?
Vision shaping, long term strategy, concept creation, business development, capital.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
We have multiple brands that offer we different offerings. The common thread that is each truly delivers 'an experience' - which is why we call ourselves an 'experiential' hospitality group.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
While there has certainly been an explosion in digital dining and delivery, we still believe people will crave in-store experiences. The challenge to stay relevant and on the cusp of all things F&B is extremely exciting

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Steak Frites from Le Relais De Venise (L'Entrecote)

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I've never properly cooked a meal in my life!

Jae Kim
Jae Kim
Founder
Chi’Lantro BBQ
Otto Othman
Otto Othman
Co-Founder & CEO
PINCHO

What are you responsible for at your company?
Lead our above store team and brand every day.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
PINCHO is an elevated Latin street food concept centered around burgers + kebabs. Foods you know, with flavors you've never experienced before.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
Food will always be something that brings people together. No matter what new technology is launched, we will always sit down and break bread together. Always focus on hospitality and you will always win.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Sushi Nigiri at Hillstone

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I got suspended for 9 days of school in 9th grade for hacking into the school computer network.

Hal Lawlor
Hal Lawlor
Chief Operating Officer
Smokey Bones
Robin Robison
Robin Robison
Chief Operating Officer
Modern Restaurant Concepts
Sara Dowdy
Sara Dowdy
Director, Menu Development
Zaxby’s Franchising
Frank Bonanno
Frank Bonanno
Founder
Bonanno Concepts

What are you responsible for at your company?
Venue & menu ideation, design, identity & implementation. Frank is in charge of growth and long term strategy, with on-the-ground focus in the kitchens; I (Jacqueline) am more of a creative problem solver with daily focus on the front of house.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
The Bonanno Concepts create food memories and wreak delicious happiness. We're part of the very fabric of Denver.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
There is so much in our business to be excited about. Collectively, societally, we've rediscovered the joy of the walkable neighborhood, which, means a real opportunity to embrace a sense of interactive space and community. Also, because we hire toward that intersection, there's this palpable moment to seize where the people working with us have chosen this path. They had two years to reflect on where and how they wanted to earn a living, and they chose us! How great is that?

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Frank says Le Cep, in Fleurie, deep into truffles and frog legs with Mel Masters. I say Pete's Kitchen here in Denver, 1 am, kissing my some-day husband just before diving into their weirdly pink and truly amazing breakfast burrito.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
We had to go to cheese court together and it was Big and Dramatic and our attorney had to come at the last minute to keep us out of jail.

Lindsay Rakowski
Lindsay Rakowski
Vice President of National Marketing
Wendy’s

What are you responsible for at your company?
I lead the team that creates and stewards our marketing strategy and develops our annual brand plans and national marketing calendar. We spearhead a number of cross-functional teams, partner with R&D on product development, collaborate with our agencies on creative and communication development and spend a lot of time with our franchise leadership groups collaborating on what’s best for the Wendy’s consumer and system.

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
Beloved for our iconic menu items like the Frosty, hot and crispy fries and fresh never frozen hamburgers, while also famous for serving award-winning sass and internet-breaking activations – that’s Wendy’s.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
The pandemic drastically shifted the foodservice industry and pushed brands and leaders to innovate quickly. At Wendy’s, that spirit of innovation – driven by customer expectations and the high standards we have for ourselves – continues in 2022 by our goal of becoming the world’s most thriving and beloved restaurant brand. Change is constant and the ability to push through that to constantly create a better future is fun and addictive!

Of course, all of this could not be possible without the amazing Wendy’s family. Whether it’s at Wendy’s headquarters or when I’m in our restaurants, I am inspired every day by the passion my colleagues, franchisees, operators and crew members share for achieving this goal.

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
My husband and I both love to cook and my favorite meals are those that we cook together for groups of families and friends. We rotate through Italian, Asian and Mexican recipes that are pretty delicious!

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I recently went backpacking with my family here in Colorado and on our third day made Pad Thai over a campstove.

Ben Kaplan
Ben Kaplan
Co-Founder & CEO
PLNT Burger
Sanjiv Razdan
Sanjiv Razdan
President Americas & India
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

What are you responsible for at your company?
North and South America business

How would your customers describe your restaurant brand?
My favorite place to get the best tasting coffees and teas from around the world.

What excites you about the future of this industry?
We meet the ever increasing human need to refuel, recharge and reconnect. We are getting more personalized, more convenient, more sustainable and hyper competitive, all of which is incredibly challenging and so very exciting!

Other than your own restaurants, what is your all-time favorite meal?
Grabbing local street food is a passion, most recently in Mexico City!

Give us a fun fact about yourself!
I am an amateur actor and dabble in playing hand percussion instruments.

Nick Marsh
Nick Marsh
CEO
Founder’s Table
Sahil Rahman
Sahil Rahman
Co-Founder
RASA
Holly Petre
Holly Petre
Digital Editor
Nation’s Restaurant News
Paul Macaluso
Paul Macaluso
CEO
Another Broken Egg
Jamie Ferreyros
Jamie Ferreyros
VP Sales
Presto

Jaime is a seasoned sales leader responsible for revenue growth across our brand and franchisee business segments. He has over a decade of restaurant industry experience focused on technology sales across new markets and verticals, with prior stints at Toast and Revel. He attended the University of Miami.

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